How to “discipline” our kids

On the topic of discipline, I have much to say. It is a terribly misunderstood word. People often think that to instil discipline is to enforce schedule and structure into our children’s lives. That it ought to be enforced externally to reach internally. But I beg to differ. It should come from within – as natural as the rising and setting of the sun, the rising and ebbing of the tides, the rising and falling of our breaths…….these you cannot control with a machine. These you cannot control and manipulate like a factory assembly-line. These, you have to embrace with quiet mindfulness, with focused awareness, with an internal will to watch and observe. Otherwise, they go past us, unawares, just like that.

I know I will get stunned looks of disapprovals from parents and teachers out there. But please stay with me for a bit longer and we shall dwell further on this. Stop and think back on those times your child is so deeply connected with what he or she is doing, that she wakes up early and gets started on his or her project for hours on end. Well, this is discipline through passion. And this comes from within them and not from outside pressure at all.

I remember my second child who had always been a late riser since young, surprised us with her early wake-ups for training when she joined competitive swimming. No need for alarm clocks or long spades to get her out of bed! Because she was passionate about swimming and hence the internal drive to wake up early for the gruelling training. And today, she is a dance-fitness instructor, a freelance dancer and choreographer, and she is working towards becoming a music artiste and music producer one day. She can work for days on end without much rest and she absolutely loves it! Because what drives her is her passion, not externally imposed schedules!

So, what should our children do with all the time in their hands? We ought to ask ourselves: what do WE do with our time? Do we do pages and pages of homework, or study chapters and chapters from textbooks? What drives us to fill our time with the things that we enjoy doing, the things that make us feel whole and alive? When your child is given space and time to discover the things that he or she enjoys doing, that will be the reasons they wake up early in the morning to do. That will be the driving force for them to look forward to another day of experimentations and explorations that can go on for hours and hours. I call that energy discipline.

And why must house chores and everything else be any different? From brushing our teeth to doing our laundry, they are all done through years of habit, with the understanding that these habits are good for us. And so we develop discipline in performing these tasks, and they eventually become second nature!When we view them as part and parcel of life, we and “them” are ONE, and not separate. Only then can a sense of harmony prevail….I have rarely nagged my children about house chores. Not that they always remember to do them, but because I know they will eventually learn that if they do not do them, the consequences will impact their health and daily lives. We need to trust our children to figure things out for themselves and to persevere even when the going gets tough. That, is discipline. It comes with understanding, right motivation and perseverance.

We can learn from the Japanese on how children are fully trusted to figure things out on their own, and taking on self-responsibility to the highest levels. At an early age, as early as 5 or 6 years old, they are tasked at walking to school on their own, without adult supervision. In most countries, this is deemed an act of parental negligence! But in Japan, this is their culture.

And when schools adopt this trust and respect for children, like the school in this video, the children embrace personal responsibility as well as group responsibility, which re-enforce their purpose and discipline. This is just so amazing – from growing and farming their foods to having them cooked in their school kitchen and partaking of the food with respect and gratitude. And they do not stop there – leftover scraps are put back into the soil as compost – completing the food cycle!

In short, discipline is about UNDERSTANDING why we do things, and learning HOW we can train ourselves to be better by setting MEANINGFUL TARGETS and working towards achieving them.

And how can parents help their children be more disciplined? Well, I personally feel that we as parents can lead by example. If we lead purposeful and driven lives ourselves, our children will follow suit. But the reverse is also true. Our children’s natural drive to pursue their passions can inspire their parents to be more disciplined! Which is actually my case😝 My 14-year-old son has, over the past one year or so, been actualising his passion for writing. He gave himself writing targets and daily writing schedules. He does his research on writing and invested in writing books and workshops. This kind of discipline did not come from me😅 On the contrary, he has inspired me to buck up in my writings and spurred me to be more disciplined in this area! He is also a talented pianist. When he was younger, he played the piano sporadically, but when he was about 11 years of age, he started to be more serious with his practice regiment and put in his daily practice without being told. Now people might say that this is because his mom is a piano teacher, but I must reveal here that I have never nagged him about his practising ever. It is his own initiative. And it’s the same with my other students. They eventually develop self-discipline because they want to improve, not because teacher tells them so!

So, be extremely SUPPORTIVE of their endeavours. ASK questions about their passions. LISTEN to their problems and be empathetic. This is all we need to do as parents!

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